Visions for the Future

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In The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner propose that a good vision is one that’s shaped along the way by everyone who is involved in completing it.  Anyone who reads and comments on this blog or who assists in developing the ODIN Project is helping to shape the vision of what games can be even as we make it a reality.  Because of that, I thought it was fitting to start a discussion on the potential future of video games by posting about my personal vision for them and asking you where you would like to see them going in the future.

As for me, my vision of games is to be something more than mere entertainment.  Not only can a well-written story combined with a well-designed game be a lot of fun, it can inspire us, help us learn, and bring a deeper satisfaction to our lives.  Those kinds of games can have a powerful impact, just as excellent books, movies, and art can.  I envision exceptional games achieving this potential by doing these three “E”s:

Entertain—First and foremost, a game must entertain.  If it fails here, no one will care how beneficial it might be.  Most of us have tried at some point to read a classic book or watch an old movie that just didn’t engage us.  If we aren’t entertained, we don’t want to keep going, no matter how positive the influence might be.  Beyond that, we all need to rest from the fatigue of daily living.  Games can offer a great diversion from the mundanities of life by taking us to a world quite different from our own.

Edify—To edify is “to build up, establish, or strengthen a person…; to uplift” (dictionary.com).  Have you ever played a game that inspired you and made you want to do better?  Have you ever played a game that made you cry?  Those games exist, but they’re not nearly as well represented yet in the video game market as they are in literature, music, film, or art.  That does not mean, however, that it can’t be done.  I’ve seen it, and you’ve probably seen it.  Video games even have the advantage of having a level of engagement that can’t be rivaled in any other medium, which can make them very powerful.

Educate—I have to admit, I loved playing games like “Gizmos and Gadgets” and “Jumpstart 4th Grade” as a kid, but that’s not what I’m referring to when I say exceptional games educate.  By that I mean they have learning interwoven with the gameplay, story, scene, etc.  You learn almost by default.  Players must figure out how to operate a mechanical device, characters discuss a difficult moral dilemma, or the game is set in 15th century China and the player is bathed in copious cultural details.  Most of the time, games that effectively educate this way will leave you wanting to know more, perpetuating the learning process after you put down the controller.

Behold my Venn diagram:

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I see exceptional games having this level of impact.  I’ve seen instances of it already.  When I played Age of Empires II, I wanted to learn more about the cultures being depicted and the histories being played out.  When I finished Beyond Good & Evil—in my opinion one of the most underrated games of all time—I felt like I was walking on air.  I had been so drawn into the world and the characters that the final victory became far more meaningful.

Despite believing that video games have such great potential, I don’t think every game needs to be this way.  That’s why I call them “exceptional games.”  Especially with casual games becoming so popular, some games will just be for entertainment, and that’s fine.  Not every book that’s ever been written fully does all three of these, but the ones that endure for centuries typically do.  Video games can also have that kind of a lasting impact on individuals and cultures by using gameplay, story, music, setting, and all of their elements to create a fun and influential work of art.  In fact, because of the unique combination of elements found only in video games, perhaps some of them could do it even better.

There’s my two cents (and then some.)  Now I want to hear from you.  What is your vision for video games?

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3 thoughts on “Visions for the Future

  1. Well said, FenixShadow.

    I’m a big fan of “tapping in” to the immersion and total focus that comes with playing a game, especially for learning. If we can memorize the names and abilities of hundreds of Pokemon, it turns out that it’s not that hard to memorize real-world data when in a game. I played a ton of Age of Empires in High School, and learned a great deal about ancient history. I also found the Assassin’s Creed series enlightening about all sorts of historical places and cultures. Plus, I think every gamer ends up with a far broader vocabulary of various fantasy weaponry and armor terms than the average person 🙂

    I like how you emphasize that a game still must entertain. There’s a whole field of study about “Serious Games” that receives less attention than it should, because even though they try to make a real-world difference, they’re usually not that fun. It’s a delicate balance that can be tipped the wrong way if a message is too blatant, or if the gameplay is tedious and boring.

  2. I have always compared the evolution of games to the evolution of movies. We’ve arrived at a point in the movie’s evolution that everyone acknowledges the power of movies as a medium of art. Nobody doubts the power of a movie to tell a story that might possibly change your life.

    Games have a few advantages over movies. They can immerse you in the story a little more, but as a counter to that, they require you to invest yourself in them more than you would a movie (or even a book)

    I think the primary reason games are not seen generally for their potential as a medium of art is because the wonderful story-telling of games can only come when the player is -willing- to let themselves get absorbed in the world. For people who found the value of games growing up, this is easy.

    However, we are at a native disadvantage in marketing the true potential of video games to adults. Letting a game make an impression on you takes time, and I daresay it takes a little courage– Courage to trust that you can let down your walls for a moment to see what the game has to say about life and your understanding of it.

    There will always be games that really matter to people, and there will always be a market of people who -let- these games matter to them. But I’m not sure games will ever be as universally acknowledged as any other medium of art. In a way, they’re too inaccessible to the mass market.

  3. Pingback: My Vision of a “Living Story” | Mysterious Artifact

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